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In August 2012 and March 2014, I posted about the Paralympics.
During the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the BBC broadcast a film which told the story of Dr Ludwig Guttmann and his radical physiotherapy which helped to give new purpose to paralysed soldiers at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire during the Second World War.
The drama, based on Guttmann’s life and his patients’ experiences, is called The Best of Men. The Beeb rebroadcast it during the Sochi games. If you ever have a chance to see it in 2016 (no doubt the next time it will be shown), please don’t miss it. In fact, everyone should see it. (In the US, it might be shown on PBS or the BBC cable channel.)
Guttmann had been working in his native Germany with spinal injury patients since 1917. By 1933, he became the country’s best neurosurgeon. He practiced medicine there until he was forbidden by law, because of the Nazis. Even on Kristallnacht in 1938, he ordered his staff to admit Jews into the wards and provide them temporary sanctuary, even if they had only minor wounds. When the Gestapo eventually arrived, Guttmann told the officers the people were too seriously injured to be arrested. He saved 60 people from the concentration camps.
That anecdote, which appeared in the Daily Mail in August 2012, gives us the measure of the man whom the British Government invited to work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Before he reached Stoke Mandeville, he had escaped to Portugal in 1939 on a visa the Nazis gave him, treated a patient there and intended to return to Germany via London. However, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) arranged for him and his family to remain in England.
The Guttmanns settled in Oxford. Guttmann continued his spinal research for four years at the Radcliffe Infirmary. In 1943, the British Government offered him a post at Stoke Mandeville. They invited him to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre.
As The Best of Men reveals, British medical care for paralytics was shockingly primitive. This is surprising, given that the UK has given the world some of the greatest physicians over the past few centuries.
Essentially, the British medical establishment viewed these men as nothing more than ‘cripples’ who would soon die. This reminds me of the Belgian paediatrician I quoted yesterday, Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, in my post on children’s euthanasia. In fact, if euthanansia had been legal in Britain, I have no doubt that many doctors would have put these men forward.
When Dr Guttmann first entered his new spinal injuries ward, he was shocked and angered by what he saw. Men were lying in a room which was black as night. In the film, Guttmann rushes to open these heavy blackout curtains and let in sunlight which dazzled the men. They had not seen daylight for some time.
The patients were bound in heavy plaster casts and fitted with catheters. Any nurse will tell you that this produces bedsores and fatal infections of the urinary tract. One young soldier pleaded with Guttmann to kill him. He was in that much pain.
The film shows Guttmann wasting no time in cutting away the plaster casts. What he sees shocks him: huge bedsores on every man’s back. He also removes the catheters surgically.
The spinal injury nurses find his behaviour shocking. One wants to leave. Dr Cowan, the surgeon from whom Guttmann must borrow supplies, is appalled at the notion that physiotherapy could save these men. He expects them to die, as their families have been told routinely.
After painstaking nights of personally turning over the patients every two hours to swab their bedsores, Guttmann develops a way of rehabilitating the men to give them a purpose in life.
As his daughter Eva told the Daily Mail in 2012 (emphases in bold mine):
My father’s big thing was that he was determined to make his patients taxpayers.
After their wounds were healed, the next step was to get the men to sit up at a 90-degree angle. The film shows that if you’ve been propped up at a 45-degree angle for weeks on end, once you fully sit up you also throw up.
Guttmann procured wheelchairs for his patients. He also installed a large worktable at which they sat potting plants and constructing birdhouses.
As they built up their activity levels, the next thing on Guttmann’s agenda for them was physical fitness. According to the film, he had a tough time persuading a PT instructor posted to the hospital to work with the paraplegics. ‘I deal in fitness, not disability,’ the instructor said.
Guttmann pressed on. The film shows us how the nurses began relating to the men as people, not vegetables.
The PT instructor, with Guttmann’s guidance, got the men on the hospital grounds, playing catch and moving on to archery. The unthinkable became routine.
The men built up muscle and energy. They also regained their sense of self.
The film shows them preparing for a competition. Guttmann asks the young man who wanted to die if he was ready to face one of his opponents. The young man replied jovially:
I’ll kill him!
Guttmann smiled wryly and said:
A short time ago you asked me to kill you. Now you’re ready to kill another man. We’re making progress.
However, as one can imagine, Guttmann had to personally deal with areas of deep-seated resistance from his patients and their families.
One example shown in the film was that of the cranky Welsh Cpl Wynne Bowen (Rob Brydon), who adamantly insists on a divorce because he fears he will no longer be able to satisfy his wife. It takes Guttmann a long time to persuade him not to do so. When Mrs Bowen visits with their two children and says she has put their name on the waiting list for a new one-storey house, Wynne is unimpressed. Guttmann sees how much she loves her husband. Yet, it takes a lot of doing for him to persuade a bitter Wynne to return to Wales for a weekend at home. That Sunday evening, Guttmann, the nurses and the men apprehensively await Bowen’s return. Suddenly, in he rolls singing Men of Harlech at the top of his lungs! He has a future.
Another example — and the film has more — is the time Guttmann spent with parents of a young soldier who will never walk again. The father sees life in a nursing home as the only route. Guttmann has to persuade them that their boy can live in the outside world.
Guttmann’s daughter Eva told the Daily Mail about another patient:
One of them told me he was lying in a corner of the ward feeling sorry for himself and my father came along and asked, “What are you doing?” He said he was waiting to die. So my father said that, whilst you’re waiting for the Good Lord to take you, go to the workshop and do some carpentry, do some work, start a career.
So he did. And this chap told me that after leaving hospital, he actually became the head of a building firm and did very well.
Guttmann referred to his patients as ‘the best of men’ and was eager for them to rejoin society. He believed in the power of sport as a means of physical and mental rehabilitation. The film shows brief newsreel footage of the first two Paralympic Games. The first was held in 1948 and was called the Stoke Mandeville Games. They ran whilst London hosted the Olympics that year.
Dr. Guttmann used the term paraplegic games to National Games held in order to encourage his patients to take part. This came to be known as the Paralympics which only later became the parallel games and included other disabilities.
more than 130 international competitors had entered the Stoke Mandeville Games. As the annual event continued to grow, the ethos and efforts by all those involved started to impress the organisers of the Olympic Games and members of the international community…
His vision of an international games the equivalent of the Olympic Games themselves was realized in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held alongside the official 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Known at the time as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, and organised under the aegis of the World Federation of Ex-servicemen (an International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled), they are now recognized as the first Paralympic Games. (The term “Paralympic Games” was retroactively applied by the International Olympic Committee in 1984.)
In 1961, Guttmann founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled which would later become known as the English Federation of Disability Sport. In the same year, he became the inaugural President of the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (now the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS)).
Guttmann became a British citizen in 1945. A few years later, Guttmann’s efforts received official recognition. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1950. In 1957, he became an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of St John. He received another honour, that of a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 1966.
Guttmann died in 1980. Fortunately, his legacy lives on and has expanded around the world.
May the Lord give us more Guttmanns, not only in spinal research and physiotherapy but also in general practice, psychiatry and psychotherapy. We desperately need them.
Last week on April 4, 2014, French journalist, editor, author and broadcaster Philippe Bouvard (left), 84, celebrated his 37th year presenting RTL radio’s Les Grosses Têtes (The Big Heads), France’s most popular afternoon programme on what we in Britain call ‘the wireless’.
I watched a podcast of his anniversary show and was moved when RTL’s much younger station director walked into the studio with a huge Opéra cake (seven slim chocolate-based layers, each one of which is unctuous), glasses of fizz for Bouvard and his panellists as well as a bottle of something special for Bouvard himself. Bouvard promised to share the cake with his sizable live studio audience.
Bouvard is a French institution and has even played cameo roles as himself in three films between the 1950s and the 1970s. I first became aware of him when he was editor-in-chief of France-Soir, now sadly defunct. That wasn’t his fault, by the way. It went downhill when he left, although it was still a good read for a tabloid. The racing and puzzle pages were excellent, too.
Over the past few years, I have listened to Les Grosses Têtes off and on during the afternoon. That is my busiest time of day, so I tune in and tune out. Bouvard will be leaving the programme at the end of the summer to return to RTL in the autumn with a new show, yet to be determined.
Bouvard’s programme is much like him: varied, stimulating and never boring. I cannot imagine how he manages to do it nearly every day, week in and week out. Each show is different and demands quite a lot to maintain its audience share, even if Bouvard himself probably does not do all the research or book the guests. Listeners learn something new every day, whether it is about showbiz, politics, history, literature, science, classical education or philosophy. It is recorded in the morning and broadcast in the afternoon, interspersed with news bulletins and a bit of music.
Incidentally, Bouvard was born to a Catholic father whom he never knew and to a Jewish mother. Born in 1929, he was obliged to lie low during the Second World War as an ethnic Jew. When his mother remarried, he took his stepfather’s surname. He has a French Legion of Honour medal, is a Knight of French Arts and Letters and is a member of the Grand Croix de l’Ordre d’Isabelle la Catholique. He has been married for 61 years and has two children.
It occurred to me how pleasant it was for RTL’s much younger director to present him with an anniversary celebration and a short but genuine speech of thanks.
Here in the UK, Bouvard would have been turfed out by the time he reached his 80th birthday, just on principle. The closest British icon we have of roughly the same age group is Murray Walker OBE, who, for many years, was the most remembered commentator for Formula 1 racing on the BBC and ITV.
Walker, now 90, made the decision to leave F1 commentary in 2000. His final race was the American Grand Prix in 2001. Since then, he has featured in retrospectives not only on motor racing but about his own life.
He started his career as an ad man after serving in the Second World War. Odd though it might seem today, advertising was the natural civvie street career choice for British officers in that war.
One Briton who did not fare so well with media management was the veteran BBC Radio 2 announcer Jimmy Young OBE, who left the station in a storm of controversy and public outcry in 2002 at the age of 81. Listeners past and present were outraged at his treatment by the BBC. They deemed Auntie Beeb ageist. Young had made it publicly clear he had had no intentions of retiring; his hand had been forced. Just under a decade later, in 2011, Radio 2 did a retrospective of his life with his participation at age 90. Today, he is still going strong, writing a weekly column for the Sunday Express. Among other subjects, Young has taken issue with the aggressive tone of today’s television interviewers.
Sadly, Britain’s female broadcasters and presenters have fared the worst where ageism is concerned. Two capable — and beautiful women — Moira Stewart OBE (left) and Anna Ford (right) — were turfed out of news presenting well before their time. Stewart was given the heave-ho at the tender age of 57 in 2007 after 34 years in both television and radio with the BBC. Ford stayed on as BBC One’s afternoon news presenter until she was 62. That was in 2006. By then, she had had nearly 20 years continuous broadcasting experience between ITV and the BBC.
In Stewart’s case, young(ish) DJ Chris Evans vowed he would bring her back to broadcasting. She is currently his newsreader for his drive-time Breakfast Show on Radio 2.
Ford has moved on to serve as a non-executive director of J Sainsbury plc and chairs their Corporate Responsibility Committee.
A better outcome for British women in media, perhaps, is the career trajectory of Mary Berry CBE, who overcame polio as a young girl and went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, write food columns for magazines, author cookbooks, star as a Women’s Institutes (WI) television cook on various programmes to go on to co-present the Great British Bake-off (BBC2) with Paul Hollywood.
You can’t get much better than that in your sunset years, can you?
Her Mary Berry Cooks (BBC2) has just finished and is a well-presented six-part series on traditional and modern English dishes which are sure to please friends and family. Berry takes the fear out of cooking for the kitchen novice. Her manner is friendly, open and helpful.
I quite like the way Berry is a non-feminist feminist, much like our Queen. Neither talks about feminism. Each has had a longstanding career. (At this point, Berry would quite rightly decry my comparing her to our monarch, which I would accept.) Both are feminine and gracious. Both cherish their husbands and families. Both are well respected women in their fields. Neither went in for ‘feminism’ per se with all its strident events and elements. Both are kind to others, even when things go awry. Both their mothers lived to a great age. The Queen Mother died at the age of 102. Berry’s mother lived to be 105 or 107, I cannot recall exactly.
Some of our elders in the mainstream media meet with more fortune than others. Why that is remains a mystery. However, I do enjoy watching, listening to and reading about them. They all have much to teach us.
Would that there were more seniors in mainstream media now. May we find a more generous younger generation when we meet that age. Our Boomers and Gen-X-ers are perhaps not the best respecters of age.
Last week, two men in Britain demonstrated how to win well.
In an era of crying, boasting, air-punching and so on, it was refreshing to see gracious, old-school victors with manners.
The first winner was Marvin Francis who took the trophy in the BBC3 series Hair. Throughout the series, Francis expanded his repertoire not only by creating challenging hairstyles but also by working with European hair. He normally styles Afro-Caribbean women. From the moment I saw him in the first episode, I had hoped he would win. He quietly and diligently got on with the tasks — three in each show. Unlike one of the other contestants, he didn’t boast about his abilities nor was he constantly looking around to see what his rivals were up to.
At the end of the fifth episode, he was pleasantly surprised to have been chosen for the final. In a subsequent interview aired during the sixth episode, he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m here. I left school. I never went to college. I have no qualifications.’ However, he must have been researching and practising various techniques between shows. (This style by Katie Crompton, another of the three finalists, shows the level the judges were looking for in each episode.)
Just before being presented with his trophy, the two hairdressers judging the show announced that one of the three finalists achieved a turnaround at ‘just the right time’. From his somewhat wistful facial expression, Francis did not seem to think for a second that they were talking about him. In fact, another amateur hairdresser seemed a shoo-in to win. However, her last three creations, whilst good, did not quite reflect the ‘wow’ factor of her previous efforts.
When the judges gave Francis the trophy, he smiled broadly, thanked them, then stood silently, holding and admiring it. He didn’t rush up to the two women competitors or run around the studio and flashing it about. He was humble and gentlemanly in his acceptance. He displayed a good upbringing through his dignified demeanour.
By contrast, the woman who was sure she would win was quite the opposite at the end of each episode. She displayed an unbecoming element of dominance in her competitive style.
I hope this was the catalyst Marvin Francis needed for pursuing further study in hairdressing and wish him much success in all aspects of his life.
The second winner was Irish jockey Leighton Aspell who won Saturday’s Grand National (C4), the culmination of the National Hunt steeplechase season. This is one time I wish I had laid down a tenner at the betting shop. It was the only time in nearly a quarter of a century of watching this race at home on television that I chose the first and second place winners. At odds of 25-1 for the winner — Pineau de Re — and 14-1 for the second place horse Balthazar King, I could have won a satisfying sum of money.
The Grand National is quite the spectacle. No other horse race is quite like it. With 30 daunting fences to jump, it is fraught with peril for both horse and rider. Horses begin falling at the first or second fence, although in recent years it has been rare for either man or beast to be seriously injured or die.
This race is so gripping and has so many horses, that it is replayed in slow motion and analysed so that the punter at home can see exactly what happened at each fence.
Given the drama and tension involved, it was a delightful surprise to watch Aspell’s interview just after the race. He rode along on Pineau de Re answering questions in a calm, congenial manner as if it were any other contest. Unlike previous Grand National winners, Aspell did not punch the air. One of the commentators asked a colleague in the studio why he didn’t. The answer came, ‘That’s not his style’.
In fact, because of his natural humility and calm manner, the racing community considered Aspell a competent but perhaps not a top jockey. Channel 4 commentators told us that a small fan club developed for him a few years ago.
He didn’t start it; a group of spectators following his races merely felt he should get more recognition.
With a Grand National win to his name, Leighton Aspell has earned the recognition he deserves.
I mention these two men because SpouseMouse and I have also been watching the US series, The Taste (originally on ABC, airing on More4 in the UK). We are happy that the production team modified the format for the UK; our version finished a few weeks ago and was a joy to watch.
By contrast, the American show is cringe-making, partly because of the deportment of the contestants.
All the jumping around, sniping at other competitors, boastfulness, emotional outpouring and false team building are getting on our nerves. That last element is particularly perplexing, considering that this is not really a team show; the chefs choose four contestants whom they can mentor. Anyone can get eliminated and anyone can win. It’s an individual effort.
In closing, it’s time we returned to traditional sportsmanship and grace in winning. It can be done. It had been the norm for generations. It has been done again only recently. May others observe and learn from it.
Sunday, March 30, 2014, is Mothering Sunday in the UK.
My prayers and best wishes go to all British mothers on this day. I hope that losing one hour’s sleep as the clocks change to British Summer Time will not have too much of an adverse impact on this happy occasion! Enjoy the day and may it be filled with pleasant surprises!
Laetare Sunday has been Mothering Sunday for centuries, beginning with the Church in Britain.
In Lent, this is the Sunday when the celebrant — Catholic, along with some Anglicans and Lutherans — wears a rose coloured vestment. It is the one Sunday in Lent which allows a small celebration as the faithful anticipate the commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Day.
The Catholic Church traditionally has given Laetare Roses to those who have shown exceptional faith and charity.
You can read more about all these traditions in the following posts:
On Wednesday, March 20, 2014, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer — Treasury Secretary — delivered his first budget of the year. A subsequent one is due in the autumn.
To all those who deride and criticise the upper middle and upper classes, it is worth remembering that these people pay 75% of all income tax. This has been the state of play for a few years now.
For those who live in other Western countries, the situation is unlikely to differ much. Many people who relied on low-paying full time jobs are now searching for similar part-time jobs.
An increase in both immigration and globalisation aggravates what were formerly secure salaries for working and middle class earners.
However, this is no reason to take to task those who earn many times more than we do. In fact, most of us are able to survive thanks to them.
Christ came to save the poor — and the rich.
The other day, my post on Lenten fasting mentioned the American carbon fasting advocated by the Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church.
The same is occurring here in the Church of England (CofE). On March 3, 2014, Jenny Jones — Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb — a Green Party member of the London Assembly, praised the Anglican promotion of a carbon fast for Lent in her blog for the Telegraph.
The baroness writes of the
practical information on how to reduce carbon emissions has been sent out to churches in Bath and Wells, Bristol, Exeter, Gloucester, Salisbury and Truro. In areas of transport, food and housing, Christians in the South West have been advised on how to reduce their impact on the planet and how to reduce their own bills. For example, on food, less meat and cheese consumption, while upping veg consumption, is good for fewer emissions (meat production is very costly in environmental terms), but also good for health and shopping costs. On transport, the Bishop of Ramsbury has set an example by rescheduling his diary and duties in Lent to use only public transport and bicycle. What practical muscular Christianity!
How sad — yet unsurprising — that the CofE would advocate environmentalism as being Christian.
Anyone can be an environmentalist. There is nothing about the green movement that relates specifically to church.
Would it not be better for the Church to promote Lent as a time of prayer and Bible reading instead in order to make Good Friday and Easter Sunday more relevant in the 21st century?
There are too many Anglicans who lack an understanding of Christ, His sacrifice on the Cross and His rising from the dead. A good reading of at least one of the Gospels during this time would help my fellow CofE members appreciate what He accomplished among us and for us.
Those who miss the Paralympics are in luck: Sochi’s 2014 Winter Paralympic Games are on this week.
Britain’s Channel 4 and sister channel More4 are broadcasting them throughout the day with a half-hour highlights recap in the evenings at 7:30 (GMT).
As in 2012, Paralympian Ade Adepitan is hosting the coverage. He is accompanied by Olympians and Paralympians alike to walk us through the strategies and finer points of the events. I learn more about sport watching the Paralympics than I do the Olympics; that’s how good the coverage is.
I enjoyed watching today’s curling and downhill skiing events. Having fallen behind at one point, Team GB beat the Koreans 8 – 4 in the curling. The American Tatyana McFadden came second in the women’s skiing event which was broadcast after the curling finished. One of her American counterparts won.
I hadn’t realised that McFadden also competes in skiing. Up to now, I thought she was exclusively a wheelchair racer during the summer months. Her abilities in both seasons’ events are remarkable. This short YouTube video features her discussing health issues and a love of sport:
She and her younger sister Hannah — from Russia and Albania, respectively — were rescued and adopted by Deborah McFadden, on a trip there as part of her work as a commissioner of disabilities for the US Health Department under President Clinton. Mrs McFadden and her husband adopted Tatyana first. They adopted Hannah not long afterward, once she was located in another orphanage.
On McFadden’s Wikipedia talk page, we find this comment. Those of us who followed the 2012 Paralympics will know that:
For me, the Paralympians are the real heroes of the summer and winter Games. Some, like McFadden, were born disabled. Others, like Adepitan (who contracted polio as an infant in Nigeria), suffered accidents or childhood illnesses which left them handicapped. Yet others were injured in recent wars, e.g. Afghanistan.
They never gave up. They were determined to not sit at home feeling sorry for themselves, which, admittedly, I probably would have done — for a while, anyway.
It’s interesting to listen to interviews with parents of disabled children who became Paralympians. All said, ‘They got treated the same as their brothers and sisters — through good and bad.’ Yes, it was difficult for the parents. Yes, the parents still worry. However, they gave these competitors a good upbringing in challenging circumstances.
I wish all the teams, GB in particular, all the very best. No matter who wins, their medals are well deserved.
In January 2014, my post on care.data — the proposed NHS patient data collection project in England — described how to opt out of consenting to giving one’s health profile to third parties.
General practitioners’ (GPs) surgeries were to begin transferring patient data to a central database this Spring for the HSCIC (Health and Social Care Information Centre).
This is different from the Summary Care Record data programme of a few years ago whereby patient information is shared with hospitals nationwide. Patients had to actively opt out via a letter to their GP’s surgery.
The care.data information would be made available to interested parties — companies large and small — outside of the NHS system. It is unclear how this would be used, but the patient would have no say as to his privacy.
Although the first tranche of data is said to be anonymised, later data transfers are set to include post code and more sensitive information (e.g. mental health disorders). There is nothing to stop the eventual addition of names or circulation of these data a few years down the line.
On February 18, 2014, the BBC website reported that the data transfer has been postponed to autumn 2014. That’s good news for all NHS patients living in England:
The organisation has accepted the communications campaign, which gives people the chance to opt out, needs to be improved.
There has been widespread criticism that the public have been “left in the dark” over the plans amid reports not everyone received the leaflets explaining the project.
The Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and patient watchdog Healthwatch England have all voiced concerns in recent weeks.
The central database will involve taking records from GP practices and linking them with hospital records …
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association, said: “We are pleased that NHS England has listened to the concerns.
“With just weeks to go until the uploading of patient data was scheduled to begin, it was clear from GPs on the ground that patients remain inadequately informed about the implications of Care.data.”
Association of Medical Research Charities chief executive Sharmila Nebhrajani said any sharing of data “must be done with care, competence and consent” …
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “NHS England has failed to properly communicate to patients or GPs what this new database involves, how it affects our medical records and what the risks are.
“The scheme’s benefits are no justification for not properly informing people what will happen and a delay is the right thing to do.
One week after the BBC article appeared, Yahoo!UK carried a Press Association item which says that ATOS, the private firm which carries out disability assessments for the British government, is behind care.data. Hmm. The plot thickens.
The article says, in part (emphases mine):
Under-fire firm Atos is behind the extraction of patient records from GP surgeries as part of the controversial NHS data-sharing scheme, MPs were told today.
The House of Commons Health Committee heard that Atos is implementing and managing the software for removing personal data from GP records.
The data-sharing scheme has been pushed back until the autumn after NHS England bowed to enormous pressure from groups including the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association (BMA).
Atos has repeatedly hit the headlines over “fitness for work” tests on disabled benefit claims it carries out for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Last week, it confirmed it was seeking an early exit from its contract with the Government in the face of persistent death threats to staff.
Atos Healthcare said it had been in discussions with officials for “several months” about ending its £500 million work capability assessment contract which is due to run to August 2015 …
NHS England plans to make this “amber” data available to organisations outside the NHS, such as medical charities, think-tanks, data analytics companies and universities.
Private firms such as pharmaceutical companies might also be able to obtain the data under plans to be discussed next month …
This is a diabolical scheme which should not see the light of day, especially if ATOS are planning on terminating their contract with the government.
Let us hope that GPs nationwide can help to put a stop to this outrageous invasion of privacy.
The other night we saw the first in a three-part series on BBC4, Britain’s Oldest Businesses.
The first in the programme profiled R J Balson and Son from Bridport, Dorset. Richard Balson is the current proprietor. He works together with his brother-in-law Rudi Boulay. The programme revealed that Richard Balson understood the business to date from 1535. However, a subsequent discovery, shown in the programme, dates back to 1515.
A year away from half a millenium of meat sales
The Balson website includes old family photographs of the shop and their first ‘modern’ 20th century delivery vehicle. It’s a short but fascinating read and, if the show is rerun (let’s hope it airs on PBS), it’s worthwhile recording for later viewing at home.
We learned that the first two documents dating the business referred to those Balson men being granted a stall at Bridport’s shambles, where butchery was done live in the main thoroughfare. More about shambles later in the post.
We also learned that market days — the only time butchery was allowed — were Wednesday and Saturday. Therefore, if you wished to make a living by selling meat, you often had to have another job.
One of Balson’s more recent ancestors from the 19th century ran a pub. He was able to sell more meat through the pub. (These days, outsiders go in to pubs to sell meat of unknown provenance, possibly stolen, at very low prices. Caveat emptor — buyer beware.) However, this proves that selling meat in the pub is an old tradition. It would be interesting to find out how many butchers ran pubs before they were allowed to open a shop throughout the week.
Another detail viewers learned was that the abundance of carcasses on display was generally photographed in the run-up to Christmas as a retail incentive.
Currently, a Balson relative living in the US sells meat from the family firm online. He still has the old date of 1535 in the banner heading.
The Telegraph has a good article — albeit with a misspelling of Thomas More’s name — about the Balson family business:
Although he’s interested in his business’s claim to fame, Richard Balson has never had the time to think about starting a history project. A butcher’s life is busy from cradle to grave. He grew up above the shop and remembers his father warning him from an early age that the Balson butchers never earned enough for a retirement …
Next year he will own a business that has been in the same family for half a millennium. Still, it’s not all good news: “Nothing exciting happened that year , except the birth of Anne of Cleves,” he says despondently.
More disturbing information is in store for Balson, whom we follow in the first part of the series. He becomes increasingly hooked as the story unravels: the shop has, quite miraculously it seems, survived a rather bloody history. One of the Balson butchers lived with a married woman and “had his head blown off” by her 10-year-old son [an accident]; another was sent to a Victorian asylum for electric shock treatment before cutting his own throat [in a wash house, the precursor to a launderette]. What makes these stories close to the bone, as it were, is that they all lived and worked in the same space – as indeed did Balson with his own father.
The Shambles — first butchery sites
‘The Shambles’ was the name for mediaeval and subsequent butchers’ stalls until the 18th or 19th century, depending on the town or city.
As the documentary on the Balsons showed us, shambles were set up in the main shopping — high — street in a central location. They were often roofed structures but might have been held up only by columns in some cases to allow freer passage of livestock to slaughter.
Farmers brought in their beasts to be slaughtered and butchered on market days. In principle, the documentary told us, the animals could be cut to order. Any meat not sold on that day could be salted — similar to corned beef — or sent to the local lepers, which was undoubtedly seen as an act of Christian charity; otherwise they might have starved.
However, the shambles represented a hygiene problem over the centuries. Whilst the blood and faecal waste from the animals could flow off into the recesses of the street, in time, cholera and other diseases were rife in these districts. Yet, it would not be until the 18th century when the ‘Godless’ Enlightenment (as many 21st century American fundamentalists perceive it as a whole) would enable town planning and some degree of cleanliness. At that point, Bath being one example, the shambles were removed from the public square and placed indoors with separate slaughter or butchery facilities at the rear of the shops. Some animals were killed offsite and brought into town. In the late 19th century, butchers were among the first to be able to purchase and benefit from refrigerated cold stores to keep meat fresh throughout the week. From that point on, many meat shops were open five or six days a week.
Shambles — etymology and current meaning
The American Heritage Dictionary traces the word ‘shambles’ as follows (emphases in bold mine below):
A place or situation referred to as a shambles is usually a mess, but it is no longer always the bloody mess it once was. The history of the word begins innocently enough with the Latin word scamnum, “a stool or bench serving as a seat, step, or support for the feet, for example.” The diminutive scamillum, “low stool,” was borrowed by speakers of Old English as sceamol, “stool, bench, table.” Old English sceamol became Middle English shamel, which developed the specific sense in the singular and plural of “a place where meat is butchered and sold.” The Middle English compound shamelhouse meant “slaughterhouse,” a sense that the plural shambles developed (first recorded in 1548) along with the figurative sense “a place or scene of bloodshed” (first recorded in 1593). Our current, more generalized meaning, “a scene or condition of disorder,” is first recorded in 1926.
A webpage on the history of York adds that ‘shamel’ also referred to:
Flesshammel, which means to do with flesh – it was the street of the butchers. In 1872 the number of butchers was recorded as 26. This figure dwindled over the years until the last butcher standing was Dewhurst at number 27 the Shambles.
Unfortunately, the nationwide Dewhurst chain disappeared in 1995. I remember seeing them in many towns and London boroughs when I first moved to England. However, the Vestey Group which, although British, branched out into large-scale South American food ventures instead of investing in the UK. They:
developed the country-wide Dewhurst the Butchers chain of butchers shops, which was eventually disbanded in 1995 in the face of increasing competition from the supermarket chains. Dewhurst were the first to introduce the innovation of glass windows on butcher’s shops – previously meat had been exposed to the elements and pollution.
I was in York’s Shambles on a visit 20 years ago. I remember we all laughed at the street sign which read:
We didn’t know what it meant, even though we were all steeped to an extent in English history.
However, as the York website explains:
It is said that in certain points you can reach out of the top window and shake hands with a person doing the same daft thing in the house opposite! But if you had walked the length of this street, say, 300 years ago, it would have been a very different experience! Livestock would have been kept behind the shops and slaughtered on site.
Later, when York had the cattle market it meant that cattle no longer lived behind the shops, but the slaughterhouses remained and the cattle were driven in on foot from the market. The middle of street would have been an open gutter and the waste from the butchers was washed out of the shops and into the street. Number 31 has a sloping floor for this reason.
There was also another hazard — human waste from the bedpans and chamberpots. Younger readers should realise there were no toilets at the time. Sorry, but this has to be said. We don’t know how fortunate we are to be living in our times.
In Edinburgh at the same time, there was a common saying among the locals living in similarly crowded conditions, where disease was also rife. Housekeepers and housewifes would empty the chamberpots and bedpans, quickly calling out, ‘Gardy-loo!’ I have heard several historical explanations of this, but the most likely seems to be a corruption of the French, ‘Gardez l’eau!’ or ‘Mind — pay attention to — the water’, not unlike the ancient fencing expression, ‘En garde!’
York’s website says much the same thing:
domestic waste would have been thrown down from the windows above to either drain into open ditches, or stagnate in the road. Manure was collected at night, but no great effort was made to take it very far away. The terribly unhygienic conditions led to several outbreaks of cholera, and yet it was not until the 20th century that changes were made.
It was not until the 20th century that ‘changes were made’ because Bazalgette’s modern sewage and sanitation system of its many u-bends was perfected in the 19th century in London. It made a near-immediate change for the better in the hygiene of London’s residents and was no doubt sent across the country as the way forward.
Never laugh when people talk about the benefits of modern toilet, drainage and water sanitation systems. You would not be reading this if they were not in place.
York: St Margaret Clitherow, butcher’s wife — and priest holes
Whilst in York, strolling along The Shambles, I don’t know if I knew there was a slaugherhouse (abbatoir) behind Nos. 37 and 38.
However, I did see the overhang of upper storeys of the centuries-old buildings:
There remain examples of late medieval buildings in the Shambles, which represents a good example of how houses – topped by overhanging “solars” through which it was hoped that sunlight might be brought through the windows into burgesses’ living quarters – were sometimes within arms’ reach of each other.
To the dismay of my Anglican companions, I — a fellow Anglican — did visit St Margaret Clitherow’s shrine at Nos. 35 and 36:
Margaret Middleton married John Clitherow, a widowed butcher who had his business at number 35. After her marriage Margaret converted to Catholicism. These were turbulent times for religion, with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and the continued religious warring throughout the reigns of his children. Margaret gave shelter to travelling Priests, and conducted Mass for local Catholics in her home. Warned and imprisoned for her continual refusal to conform to the protestant way of life, she continued with her activities.
The inspectors would count the windows outside the houses and compare them to the count inside, to see if an area had been concealed to hide a priest. On the evidence of a frightened child they arrested Margaret and charged her with providing cover for the Priests and with practicing Catholicism. She was offered a trial, but she insisted she had no crime to answer to, and so was sentenced to death. To be crushed to death in the prison under Ouse bridge.
Rather than be naked, she made herself a shift of white linen. She lay with a large stone placed in the small of her back and a door was laid upon her body. Stones were piled upon the door until she was dead. She was canonized on October 25th 1970, and her right hand can still be seen in the Bar Convent museum.
I didn’t know about the Bar Convent museum, but visiting her former home was moving. I could feel a chill, which normally hasn’t happened to me in other such places, e.g. the Roman Catacombs. Perhaps this was because the martyrdom was more recent. I cannot say.
My Anglican friends must have felt something, too, because two stepped away quickly and the other suggested a quick exit. I stayed on to read what was written about her and was increasingly moved by her life.
By the way, there were such things as ‘priest holes’. Some were hidden by a heavy stone concealing door with a false appearance on one side. The priest, with some physical effort, could move the stone door, carefully find the staircase to a lower storey — i.e. cellar — and remain there indefinitely as long as someone brought him food, drink and candles. The stone door made the cellar soundproof and rendered the clergyman invisible for all intents and purposes.
Elizabeth I, the reigning Queen, was outraged that Margaret Clitherow had been sentenced to death. St Margaret Clitherow’s Wikipedia entry says:
She was born as Margaret Middleton, the daughter of a wax-chandler, after Henry VIII of England had split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. She married John Clitherow, a butcher, in 1571 (at the age of 15) and bore him three children. She converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 18, in 1574. Her husband John was supportive (he having a brother who was Roman Catholic clergy), though he remained Protestant. She then became a friend of the persecuted Roman Catholic population in the north of England. Her son, Henry, went to Reims to train as a Roman Catholic priest … A house in the Shambles once thought to have been her home, now called the Shrine of the Saint Margaret Clitherow, is open to the public (it is served by the nearby Church of St Wilfrid’s and is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough); her actual house (10 and 11, the Shambles) is further down the street.
… she was executed by being crushed to death – the standard punishment for refusal to plead – on Good Friday 1586. The two sergeants who should have killed her hired four desperate beggars to kill her. She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face then laid out upon a sharp rock the size of a man’s fist, the door from her own house was put on top of her and slowly loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones (the small sharp rock would break her back when the heavy rocks were laid on top of her). Her death occurred within fifteen minutes but her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed. After her death her hand was removed, and this relic is now housed in the chapel of the Bar Convent, York. Following her execution, Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York expressing her horror at the treatment of a fellow woman. Because of her sex, she argued, Clitherow should not have been executed.
From this, I gathered that St Margaret Clitherow would have been a patron saint of butchers. However, she is the patron saint of businesswomen, converts, martyrs and the Catholic Women’s League.
There are some mysteriously and absolutely foul revisions of the word ‘burgess’ in the Urban Dictionary. Some are simply unkind and others are scatalogical. None of them has a link to history and the original meaning of the word. Therefore, I have not supplied a link to them.
Burgess is a word in English that originally meant a freeman of a borough (England) or burgh (Scotland). It later came to mean an elected or unelected official of a municipality, or the representative of a borough in the English House of Commons.
It was derived in Middle English and Middle Scots from the Old French word burgeis, simply meaning “an inhabitant of a town” (cf. burgeis or burges respectively). The Old French word burgeis is derived from bourg, meaning a market town or medieval village, itself derived from Late Latin burgus, meaning “fortress“ or “wall”. In effect, the reference was to the north-west European medieval and renaissance merchant class which tended to set up their storefronts along the outside of the city wall, where traffic through the gates was an advantage and safety in event of an attack was easily accessible. The right to seek shelter within a burg was known as the right of burgess.
The term was close in meaning to the Germanic term burgher, a formally defined class in medieval German cities, (Middle Dutch burgher, Dutch burger and German Bürger). It is also linguistically close to the French term Bourgeois, which evolved from burgeis. An analogous term in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu is برج ‘burj’ or ‘borj’, which in itself variously means a high wall, a building, or a tower.
The term is also related to burglar, though this developed in the opposite direction in terms of social respectability.
From my reading of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin, the Russians also had a similar word, burgis.
The burgess’s status was underneath that of the alderman’s — alder, elder — who was his superior. However, the burgess was the precursor to the merchant class. As Wikipedia cites, the verses of the ancient song Greensleeves point out:
Thy purse and eke thy gay guilt knives, thy pincase gallant to the eye: No better wore the Burgesse wives, and yet thou wouldst not love me.
About.com gives a simpler definition:
A burgess was a landowner or householder in a town or borough. Burgesses paid their share of any communal dues and expenses and therefore shared in town privileges.
The term derives from the word borough (and its alternate pronunciations), as does burgher. Burghers and burgesses were different, however, in that burgesses had special privileges that derived from their support of the community.
Today, we still have boroughs (e.g. London and New York City) as well as aldermen (e.g. Chicago).
town residents contributory towards the customary payments due the king from boroughs, later in the Middle Ages its varied application does not suggest a precise, universally agreed, technical definition. Broadly, however, it referred to residents of a borough, usually those residents who were members of the borough community in terms of sharing in communal responsibilities and rights; hence we often find the term “comburgess” used, to emphasise that an individual was a fellow member of the enfranchised community (although the term also came to be used, on occasion, to refer to burgesses of higher status). At Lynn the poorest townsmen were clearly described as non-burgesses, “burgesses” evidently being equated with those residents who had become freemen; this appears also the case in Ipswich. Yet in Colchester the same class of poorer residents was described as being burgesses. Outsiders (“strangers” or “foreigners”) were sometimes allowed to acquire some of the same – notably commercial – privileges by entering the franchise under the special status of “foreign burgess”. Towards the end of the Middle Ages “burgess” was more likely to be used to distinguish one group of privileged townsmen from a less privileged group.
There was a fine line between ‘advantages of burgesses’ — a burgess was a freeman — and a ‘monopoly’ on trading. Burgesses became wealthy because they could share in the proceeds of market trade, as this example from old Norwich (Norfolk) municipal laws says, in modern English:
It was a fundamental right of freemen to be able to claim a share in any mercantile bargain made by one of their fellows, if they were present when the bargain was made. Only in special cases could they claim a share if not present. The use of multiple representatives undermined this equal shares principle, and favoured the urban upper class, which supplied most bailiffs – perhaps explaining the final clause of this chapter, suggesting that the bailiffs might be reluctant to investigate such abuses in absence of a specific complaint, and producing a statement of the source of political authority in towns.
Perhaps this is the source of European class conflict, which might well have started centuries ago. Let it further be emphasised that local lords or kings actually owned the land granted to the care of burgesses to rent — tenements (somewhat different to the early 20th century meaning) — on their behalf.
On a lighter note …
The city of Manchester’s website has a photographic history of their Shambles Square. If you scroll down one-quarter or one-third down the page, you will see Ye Olde Fyshing Tackle Shoppe.
The next photo shows that a Will Chambers owns it (look for the postcard reproduced with Jason Kennedy’s permission).
The following postcard or photo shows the same building at a slightly different angle. Could the writing on the card be from Will Chambers? It is certainly signed Will. It says — in as much as I can make out:
Dear Froggy cum ['with' -- Latin] sausage cum roast beef, how the dickens are you, have your muscles grown any, are you quite well, anything fresh, if so let me know, you owe me a letter, you [are] usually so punctual, what do you think of your new nephew, both [mother and son] are doing well.